La Griglia’s Second Coming: Decades-Old Restaurant Is Made Brand New

La Griglia’s Second Coming: Decades-Old Restaurant Is Made Brand New

Beef carpaccio atop La Griglia’s chic marble tables

IT'S 5 O’CLOCK on a Tuesday night and the newly imagined two-story La Griglia restaurant is already packed with cars at the valet, a line of guests at the door, and cocktail revelers filling the bar. The cognoscenti has reserved their favorite tables in the sophisticated dining room and in the dreamy Courtyard. It’s an outdoor space rivaling sunbaked patios in Tuscany — but this one sports heaters, a retractable roof, and its own bar, courtesy of owner Tilman Fertitta.

If familiar with the original La Griglia on West Gray founded by Tony Vallone in 1991, you recall the hot, table-hopping scene by day and night, as well as the distinctive perfume of grilling and garlic upon arrival. With lofty ceilings and walls paved in bright whimsical murals painted by a local artist, the upbeat new-Italian vibe attracted the movers and shakers of Houston. “[When] Tony’s closed for a while, La Griglia became the playground for River Oaks,” said Brandon Busch, a senior executive who was hired as a waiter at the eatery and moved up to management.

After Fertitta purchased La Griglia, it remained the perch for politicians, socialites and visiting celebrities because management took extra care of them. “It was always a different kind of restaurant — a maitre’d-driven concept. From the late John O’Quinn, Ceron, and the Farbs, to John Whitmire and Ted Cruz, we learned our guests’ wants and needs,” says Busch. “Back when it opened, there weren’t many Downtown restaurants, so we would get a big pre-theatre pop at 5pm, and it never stopped.” There was always a wait — and lots of wheeling and dealing to get a table — but they turned quickly.

Like at the newly relocated La Griglia on West Dallas, you didn’t have to be a regular to relish the approachable menu, lively environment and welcoming team. Many of the greatest hits remain on the new menu, like the luscious shrimp-and-crab cheesecake served warm with lemon pesto, Little Gem Caesar, red snapper La Griglia, and gratis pizza bread (but please bring back the olive oil dip!).

New chef Mark Ladner, a James Beard Foundation award winner and two-time Michelin star recipient, has added fresh takes including a mouth-melting veal piccatine, a must-try burrata di Puglia with heirloom tomatoes and basil oil, and tagliatelle with prosciutto di Parma, béchamel and Parmesan gratinee rich enough to share.

“Being born in Austin, I’ve had a great time getting back to my Texas roots,” says the chef. Although the seasonal menus source ingredients directly from Italy, Ladner added wagyu beef from family-owned R-C Ranch in Bailey’s Prairie, Texas, making La Griglia the only restaurant in Houston to offer this. Another new feature is Ladner’s Hanging Hen entrée — a whole Falcon Lake Farms chicken carved tableside and served elegantly for two.

And those tables, just like the old days, are peppered with high-end wines to match. “We’re selling a crazy amount of wine — bottles are flying out of here,” says Busch. Speaking of drinks, the tight bar area adjacent to the dining room is getting lots of action, much like the “watering-hole for lawyers” at the old location. Back in the ’90s, the happy hour was four-deep with thirsty guests and you could barely get in the place (which was roomy).

Inspired by restaurants found along the Italian Riviera and Cote d’Azure, La Griglia’s new spaces exhibit a European design sensibility with luxe finishes: marble floors, supple leathers, dramatic steel-framed windows. A marble staircase leads to a second floor with four event/private dining spaces. “An elevated dining experience with great attention to detail,” said Fertitta of his vision.

“Few restaurants still offer tableside presentations like we do with the veal, pastas and more, and we added a dress code so that the experience stays upscale,” added Busch. “Houston was ready to bring fine dining back.”

A photo of the original location on West Gray

The rustic-Italian exterior of the new West Dallas space

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